Happy New Ear!

Happy New Year. I hope you enjoyed your holidays. I hope you spent quality time with your loved ones. I hope you drank to your fill and ate to your satisfaction. I hope chicken had sleepless nights over the festive season because of you. Because unless you’re vegetarian what’s the festive season without chicken, eh?

I hope you’re well rested, revitalised and ready to take on the New Year. I hope you didn’t overindulge over the festive season leaving your pocket in ruins. I hope you’re well prepared for the 90 days of January. I hope your year started on a high note, unlike mine.

My year started on a low note. A couple of days before the new year the hearing in my right ear became muffled. I started using an ear drop solution to unclog my ear but it didn’t improve the clarity of my hearing. Actually, it worsened it. I had to frequently tell people to repeat what they had already told me countless times. It irritated people. It irritated me too. So on New Year’s Day, I went to the hospital.

When I arrived at the hospital, I felt like I was going to go from partially being unable to hear to stone deaf. The hospital was packed. Filled with coughing and sneezing patients. Unlike people, illness hadn’t gone on holiday.

After filling the insurance claim forms at the reception (I mistakenly wrote 2017 on the date section instead of 2018, but at least 7 can easily be doctored to read 8), I sat next to twin girls and their mother. I guessed they were aged either 5 or 6 years old (I’m poor at estimating kid’s ages). One of them (the sick one) was crying incessantly. Her mother’s efforts to hush her failed miserably and she continued to wail. In stark contrast, the other twin was in a cheery mood oblivious of her sister’s agony. She had this wide grin like she couldn’t comprehend her sister’s pain and she thought it was still Christmas.

Kids are fascinating. They don’t give much thought to stuff. Unlike adults, they don’t overthink about things like sickness. I’d rather have kids around me to comfort me when I’m sick rather than adults. Some adults can depress the hell out of you when you’re sick. Some will act awkward, while others will become annoyingly sympathetic.  Kids won’t. Kids may not understand what you’re going through but at least they’ll act normal and be all boisterous and lively.

Anyway, after a couple of minutes passed, a sunny rotund nurse called out my name and ushered me into a check-up room.

“You have a unique name. What does it mean?” she asked me as she tested my blood pressure.

“Which one?” I teased her.

“Rupia off course.”

“It means I’m supposed to have a lot of money,” I said laughing at my own self-deprecating joke.

The joke elicited a hearty laugh from her. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or sad about that. She then asked me to step on the weighing scale. I had gained four kilograms since I last weighed myself ages ago. The festive season had done me good. Boy didn’t that make me happy.

I’m one of those guys who doesn’t gain weight easily. Yet I eat. A lot. I was once told it’s because of my speedy metabolism. Whatever that means. I’m not skinny or anything but I just wanted to gain weight. Actually, it was one of my resolutions in 2017. So it was good to see I had gained an additional four kilos.

Anyway, after checking my vitals the nurse walked me back to the reception and called out her next patient. As I waited to be seen by the doctor, several people left the hospital. Even more people streamed into it. Sickness hadn’t gone on leave. The twins and their mother left the hospital. At least the sick one had calmed down. I wished her a quick recovery and her mother gave me a feeble smile to express her gratitude. She was probably overwhelmed because school’s were opening and her child was sick. I really hoped her child would make a speedy recovery.

As more patients left the hospital, my already thin patience began to wear thinner. An hour had elapsed since I had reported to the hospital. I wondered when the doctor would see me. I glanced at a wall clock in the reception several times. Time seemed to be dragging itself like a groggy patient on sedatives. Time is a funny thing. It strolls when you want it to run and sprints when you want it to walk. December feels so short yet January feels so long. *sigh*

Finally, after another agonising 15-minute wait of doing nothing, I was summoned. You know how you sometimes wish for something, get it and then wish you never got it? That’s how I felt. Because I had been summoned by Dr Alice. I wanted to sublime into purple vapour like iodine. I wished I could conjure a wormhole and jump into it.

Because here’s what happened between me and Dr Alice, I liked her. Her angelic smile, smooth features and camraderie with patients endeared me to her. But on my last visit to the hospital, I ruined my reputation.

On my previous visit to the hospital, I had a rather embarrassing experience with Dr Alice. I had a nasty ringworm infection on my left armpit and I had requested to be examined by a male doctor. But on that fateful day, there were no male doctors on call. So Dr Alice examined me.

After the necessary greetings and asking me the requisite questions about my health, Dr Alice requested me to take off my t-shirt so that she could get a closer look at the ringworm. I reluctantly agreed. But I wish I hadn’t. Because the look of horror on Dr Alice’s face was unforgettable. It’s still engraved in my mind that look. She was utterly disgusted you’d think I was suffering from leprosy or the bubonic plague.

Surely there are more appalling things than ringworms aren’t there? Besides, don’t all doctors do anatomy in their first year of med school? And doesn’t anatomy involve handling blood, going to morgues to dissect cadavers and other gruesome things? So you know what I think? I think all doctors should master the art of the poker face. No matter what disgusting things they have to see or do they should do them with a straight face. I think it should be mandatory for doctors to learn the poker face in med school. It should be a topic in communication skills under non-verbal communication. Sorry I digressed. Back to the story.

I entered the consultation room. Dr Alice was seated at her desk typing something on her computer. I sat across from her the chair squeaking as I sat.

“What brings you to hospital today Leon?” Dr Alice asked casually as if she didn’t know me. Maybe she had forgotten me. Perhaps after our last encounter, she had decided to erase any memories she had of me. Horrifying memories. Cured by selective forgetting.

“My hearing is muffled,” I responded.

“Haven’t you been here for a similar problem before?” Oh, so now you remember me?

“Yes,” I replied feeling slightly mortified but pleased that she remembered me. “But I’ve been cleaning my ears frequently and I stopped using cotton buds like you advised me to last time,” I defended myself.

“How frequently have you been cleaning your ears?” she asked.

“Everyday,” I lied.

“What have you been using to clean them?” she probed further.

“A damp cloth and an ear drop solution when the wax accumulates like you instructed me to,” I said. My nose should have grown an inch longer.

Dr Alice wasn’t buying my hogwash. If I purported to clean my ears frequently they wouldn’t be clogged now, would they?

“Okay. I’ll take a closer look at your ears,” she said as she pulled out her drawer and took out a miniature torch like thingy (that I later learnt is called an otoscope).

After cleaning the otoscope meticulously with cotton dabbed in an antiseptic solution, she stuck the otoscope in my right ear.

“Just as I thought. There’s lots of wax,” she said as she prodded the otoscope further into my ear. “There’s lots of cerumen but it feels soft. Have you been using an ear drop solution recently?” she asked.

“Yes, I have,” I replied.

“For how many days?”

“Three days.”

“Then the wax should be soft enough to flush out. I’ll do syringing to get rid of it and you’ll feel much better.”

“Okay. But I was reading online that syringing isn’t recommended and that it’s better to let the wax ooze out on its own,” I said trying to counter her proposal.

Doesn’t it suck how nowadays every Tom, Dick and Harry (that phrase is gender insensitive btw) with a smartphone thinks they can do your job? And not only do it but do it better than you. Keyboard ninjas on Twitter think they are journalists and people uploading photos on Instagram think they are professional photographers.  And don’t get me started on Instagram “models”. And now here I was, the dude critical of all those phonies, challenging a doctor who says stuff like cerumen to mean earwax with my little internet knowledge.

Speaking of the internet, if you’re sick go to the doctor. Don’t consult the internet. The internet has a myriad of answers. Plus the internet will blow your symptoms out of proportion. The internet will make you think you’re going to die from a cold. It will make you ponder your mortality and think about the essence of life. The internet will make your cough sound like TB and your headache a brain tumour. Do yourself a favour. If your symptoms persist consult your doctor, not the internet.

Anyway, Dr Alice wasn’t taking no for an answer. I was going to undergo the syringing procedure. As she led me to the operating room, I thought about all the potential side effects of syringing I had read about online. “Syringing may cause vertigo,” one article said. “Syringing may perforate your eardrum,” said another. Lord knows I didn’t want to become deaf. If I couldn’t hack a week of French lessons on Duolingo how would I hack sign language? I was freaking out but I maintained a semblance of calm. Those were just internet opinions. The internet exaggerates stuff. I would be fine.

“Are you afraid? Dr Alice asked me as we entered the operating room.

“Not at all,” I muttered feigning bravery.

“Don’t worry. It’s a painless procedure,” Dr Alice said. “I’ll just insert a syringe filled with a warm saline solution and flush the solution into your ear a couple of times until all the wax discharges. You may feel a little discomfort after the procedure but only for a short time,” she assured me.

Her assurance made me feel much better. Now if only she could hold me, stroke my hair and reassure me that everything would be fine to dispel my fears.

“Please take a seat,” Dr Alice said directing me towards the only chair in the operating room snapping me out of my reverie.

She then left the operating room and returned with the plump nurse who had checked my vitals. She would assist Dr Alice with the procedure. As they prepared for the procedure—putting on gloves and methodically preparing equipment, I fidgeted in my chair. I was scared stiff. My mind was in a whirl thinking of all the possible worst case scenarios.

As my thoughts drifted, the nurse draped a cape over me. Meanwhile, Dr Alice filled a syringe with the saline solution.

“It feels like the barbershop doesn’t it?” Dr Alice chirped and spun the revolving chair in an attempt to cheer me up and allay my fears.

“Yes it does,” I said with a feeble laugh.

“Don’t worry. It will be over before you know it.”

But before she could begin the procedure, a scrawny bespectacled doctor wearing an oversized lab coat burst into the room.

“Sorry for interrupting. I’ve just come for gloves. Mine ran out,” he said excusing himself.

Dr Alice pointed him towards the drawer with gloves. He retrieved the gloves, but once he was done with his business he didn’t leave the room. Instead, he decided to intrude.

“He’s in for syringing, isn’t he? Can I do the procedure while you go for your lunch break?” he asked Dr Alice.

You should have seen the guy. Boy wasn’t he enthusiastic about the prospect of doing the procedure. I imagined him calling dibs on syringing while in med school. Why would you ask to take over your colleague’s workload anyway?

Fortunately, Dr Alice declined his proposal like a true professional. And boy didn’t that make him sore. He stormed out of the operating room like a surly child who had lost a game. Not that I cared about his feelings anyway. I was just glad he didn’t get to do the procedure. Because I didn’t think he would do it as gently as Dr Alice.

Once he left the room, Dr Alice commenced with the procedure. The nurse placed a hollow bowl next to my ear. Dr Alice then put the syringe in my ear and reassured me that the procedure wouldn’t hurt. I shut my eyes and tried to clear my mind.

Dr Alice squirted a jet of the saline solution into my ear. Did it hurt? No. It mostly felt tingly. It felt like that feeling you get when you dive into the deep end and water floods into your ear. Only on a more massive scale. She flushed my ear with the solution several times and the wax came oozing out of my ear—a murky brown solution filling the bowl the nurse was holding next to my ear.

After the procedure, my ear felt tingly but the tingly sensation eventually dissipated. And the articles I read were total garbage. I wasn’t dizzy and I could hear perfectly well.

In fact, never has the clarity of my hearing been better. As I left the hospital and walked down the street, I wallowed in all the sounds—cars roaring past, hawkers chanting beseeching people to buy their wares and promotional music blaring from shops selling phones. Everything sounded so crystal clear and pleasing to my ear.

I boarded a nduthi back home. The motorcycle rider was an affable fellow and he talked to me animatedly about lots of things. I usually don’t talk to nduthi guys because I can barely hear what they are saying. But that day I did. We mostly talked about football. He predicted that Manchester United would beat Everton in a match to be played later in the day. His prediction was correct. Manchester United beat Everton 2-0.

It looks like it’s going to be a good hear ear year.

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